Explaining the Actions and Positions of the Sri Lankan and Philippine States in Defense of 'Their' Female Migrant Domestic Workers

32 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2014

See all articles by Patrick Ireland

Patrick Ireland

Illinois Institute of Technology

Date Written: 2014


What measures have homeland states taken to protect their nationals serving as domestic workers abroad? Specifically, what have been the positions and actions of the Sri Lankan and Philippine states with respect to their female citizens who (along with some men) carry out household duties in the Middle East, Asia, and Southern Europe? What explains the states’ varying roles? There is general consensus among scholars and other observers that the Philippine state has been more forceful and effective than its Sri Lankan counterpart in defending overseas workers, including female domestics. Internal factors that have been mentioned as possible causes include the Philippines’ longer emigration history, the larger share of Filipinos living outside their homeland and their ability to vote in homeland elections, and the greater importance of migrant workers’ remittances to that country’s gross domestic product. As for external factors, analysts note that more female migrant domestic workers (FMDWs) from the Philippines have labored in European countries with stronger migrant labor laws; more Sri Lankan women have migrated to the less benevolent Middle East. A most-similar case comparison has been constructed between the Sri Lankan and Philippine states’ responses to “their” FMDWs, with archival research; data from expert interviews; and content analysis of policies, speeches, and official statements employed to understand what measures officials have taken and why. It turns out that the most persuasive explanations for why the Philippine state has been more active and successful in defending the rights of FMDWs overseas do not involve the factors most commonly cited in the literature. Instead, aspects of migrants’ human capital (their stock of competencies, knowledge, and social and personality attributes) valued in the international market for domestic labor seem to make the biggest difference. Sending-country states are engaged in an ongoing struggle to channel migratory flows driven by global market forces so as best to reconcile what can loom as contradictory goals: protecting both their citizens and their share of the lucrative, competitive market for FMDWs and their remittances — increasingly needed to acquire vital imports and pay off foreign debts.

Keywords: female migration, domestic workers, Sri Lanka, Philippines

JEL Classification: J61, J68

Suggested Citation

Ireland, Patrick R., Explaining the Actions and Positions of the Sri Lankan and Philippine States in Defense of 'Their' Female Migrant Domestic Workers (2014). APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2454649

Patrick R. Ireland (Contact Author)

Illinois Institute of Technology ( email )

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